This quaint city in central Switzerland, set amidst lakes, green pastures, and the mesmerising Swiss Alps, offers the ultimate mountain getaway with a touch of Swiss sophistication.
If you’re looking to escape from the daily grind, for a bit of relaxation, culture, sightseeing and some seriously splurge-worthy finds, Lucerne is the place to visit. The minute you step out of the train station, you’re greeted with fresh, clean air, views of Lake Lucerne, and the majestic Alps in the backdrop. Shimmering rivers, chalets and green spaces make this picturesque city appear like something out of a fairy tale.
A Swiss-German and French speaking land, Lucerne, is the capital of Canton Lucerne (Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons) and sits at the northern foothills of the Swiss Alps, close to the French border. Lucerne (known as Luzern in German) covers over 1,400 square metres, and is located on the northwestern end of Lake Lucerne, where it meets the Reuss Revier at 436 metres above sea level. The town, which was once a fisherman’s village, is now sandwiched between the Swiss Plateau and the Alps, and is one of Switzerland’s most cultural cities.
A HOME IN THE MOUNTAINS
Located on the 3,000-feet-high Mount Bürgenstock, 30 minutes away from the main city, is Hotel Villa Honegg. With the scenic Swiss Alps forming an impressive backdrop, the historic hotel (it was built in 1905) which overlooks the lake, and lakeside villages, is owned by the Qatari royal family, and has been recently refurbished. All rooms and suites feature parquet flooring, dark brown furnishings, gold wallpaper, sheer white drapes to allow natural rays to come through, and a spacious terrace with sunbeds to lounge in and cosy up with a hot chocolate! A soak in the large bathtub with Hermès toiletries, is sure to become a nightly ritual after a day out and about in the countryside. Little touches like binoculars provided in the rooms for nature-viewing add to the feel of a country getaway. On days when you want to sit back and relax, visit the spa for a relaxing treatment, or take a dip in the heated outdoor pool or hot tub and take in the panoramic views, literally from the edge of the mountain.
A true gourmet getaway in the Alps, the hotel’s restaurant, which was awarded 14 Gault Millau points (the Swiss equivalent of the Michelin guide), is packed most days, often with high profile guests who fly in by private jet – the hotel has a landing strip at the Pilatus Aircraft factory below the mountain – to dine here. There’s no doubt as to why the restaurant was awarded these points, as the food – made with locally sourced produce – is spectacular. My recommendations would be the mango gazpacho with wasabi ice cream for starters, which is sweet and slightly pungent. For mains, you can’t go wrong with a succulent Veal fillet and chanterelles with potato gnocchi and artichokes. Washed down with a local Riesling, end your meal with a divine chocolate fondant, which suits the climate and location perfectly.
To further satiate the foodie in you, you can make a trip to Holzenfleisch, a nearby goat farm, where founder Toni Odermatt allows you to pet baby goats cavorting around the farmhouse, before giving you a tour of the pastures where more cheerful goats scout for herbs and flowers to munch on. The farm holds a gate sale every Friday, so stock up on goat cheeses such as fresh ricotta, smoked gouda-style cheese and even Parmesan to take back home.
You may find it surprising, but you’ll find some excellent Middle Eastern food even in the midst of the Swiss Alps, as the hotel also serves Arabic cuisine, and Halal meat. Some of the offerings include baked falafels, hummous and fattoush, and Executive chef Thomas Amstutz’s love for Arabic food is noticeable in dishes such as a creamy moutabel, served with freshly baked bread.
Hotel Villa Honegg, named ‘The Friendliest luxury hotel in Switzerland’ serves as a luxurious base for all the adventures the mountains invite you to engage in. Take a golf cart from the hotel, to the base of a hill to go hiking – the views from top of the hill are nothing short of resplendent, and the fresh, crisp air that hits your face is better than any facial you can treat your skin to. Up here is a footbridge to Europe’s highest outdoor exterior elevator, The Hammetschwand Lift, also built in 1905, which is located at an altitude of 1,132 metres, and does the vertical run in just under a minute, exposing panoramic views of Lucerne.
Another must-do in this area is the 120-year old funicular train – departing from the canton’s main city of Stans, it makes for a cosy, romantic train ride to the Cabrio station. Here you can hop on the world’s first and only roofless upper deck cable car which takes you to the The Circular summit, a hiking mountain trail. The trek to the 1,900 metre-high mountain top approximately ten minutes, leaving you with ample time to take a breath of bucolic air, and click postcard-perfect snapshots of snowcapped alpine mountains in the distance.
Wander around the mountain, and meet folks lighting up a bonfire, couples setting up a picnic on the wooden tables, and adventure enthusiasts leaping of the mountain top to go paragliding. Check out Heidi’s (the titular protagonist from the popular Swiss children’s book) wooden house with some local marmots (large mountain squirrels) for company on this summit, before heading to the revolving restaurant, Rondorama, for a hot drink and lunch.
The glass-and-wood -decorated restaurant, perched atop the mountain, revolves 360 degrees every 45 minutes, and is popular with locals and tourists alike. It might seem like a rather high-end place to dine at, but it’s safe to say that you don’t need a Swiss bank account to enjoy a hearty, authentic meal here! To get a taste of local cuisine, try the tomato soup, a rich, decadent broth with dollops of cream; and Aelplermagaronen (Älpler Macaroni), a staple dish made up of pasta, potatoes, cream, cheese, and fried onion garnish, eaten with apple sauce. End the meal with the Stanserhorn coffee, a large glass of coffee with schnapps – similar to Irish coffee – and whipped cream, to keep you warm on your journey back. Just outside the restaurant is a shop where you will find everything from Swiss chocolates to post cards – perfect for some souvenir shopping.
Once you’ve had your fill of soaking up nature, a trip to the historic Lucerne city is will offer the perfect urban complement. Head to the Old Town, to admire wall-paintings on Haussmann-style buildings with pastel green and pink windows, and lose yourself in the cobbled streets, filled with shops, horse carriages, street performers and ice cream vendors eagerly serving fresh, homemade – a must-try. Round off your day trip to Lucerne with a walk over The Chapel Bridge, the oldest footbridge of Europe and one of Lucerne’s must-see landmarks. Built in the 14 century, the wooden bridge which spans across the Reuss River, is decorated with pictures depicting life in historic times.
When in Switzerland, you can’t leave without buying heaps of chocolate and a cow bell souvenir. In the Old Town, you’ll find tons of souvenir shops and chocolate boutiques, but if you’re interested in purchasing a Swiss watch, do so in Lucerne or Duty free, where brands are available at significantly lower prices. End your shopping spree with a break at a riverside café, where you can also feed the swans, as you contemplate how this tiny pocket of Switzerland offers the perfect combination of nature, shopping, food and adventure in the ultimate city-meets-country vacation.
Swiss International Air Lines offers daily flights to Zurich from Dubai. Book business class tickets to enjoy fine luxuries on the seven-hour trip, sleep on flat-bed seats, watch the latest blockbusters and indulge in Swiss cuisine created by top chefs. The à la carte gourmet menus, created by chefs from one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland (each chef’s menu is served for three months), offers a refreshing take on plane food – think lemongrass-marinated king prawns with pea mousse, and meatloaf with red wine jus. Ticket prices start from Dhs3,000 on economy, Dhs13,400 on business class. www.swissair.com.
Lucerne is a one-hour train ride from Zurich Airport. Ticket prices start from CHF53 (around Dhs210), visit www.raileurope-gcc.com.
Room rates at Hotel Villa Honegg start from CHF453 per night, including breakfast, mini bar, and free access to the spa. Visit www.villa-honegg.ch for details.
The Hammetschwand Lift trip costs CHF13 per adult, call +41416129905. The Funicular train and Cabrio ride are priced at CHF68 per person, visit www.stanserhorn.ch/cabriofor more details.